Guest Post by Marie Ennis-O'Connor
Journaling can be used as an effective tool for managing stress and for self-exploration. It allows us to clarify our thoughts and feelings, gain valuable insight and self-knowledge and find solutions to problems. Studies on the effects of journaling have found that it provides significant benefits to our physical health too. People who journal for extended periods of time report an increase in emotional well-being and fewer symptoms of depression. Research has also shown how our immune systems benefit from consistent journaling about emotional and personal topics.
I was 34 years of age when I hit was hit with a juggernaut – the metaphorical juggernaut of the words “you’ve got cancer”. After the first few days and weeks of shock wore off (although never completely), I turned to the one thing that has always helped me make some sense of things - my journal. I have kept a diary since I was a little girl – it has always been a safe place to express my worries, my hopes, my dreams, and my despairs without fear of judgment.
I went through nine months of treatment for my disease and throughout every stage – the pain and sadness of breast surgery, the hair loss and nausea of chemotherapy, the fatigue, the loneliness, the sleepless nights – I wrote in my journal. I coped remarkably well with this period, but it was when my cancer treatment finally ended that the full impact of what had happened hit me. I needed more than my private journal to get me through this next stage of cancer.
There is an expectation that when you walk out of hospital on your final day of treatment, your cancer story has ended; but the reality is that in many ways your story is only just beginning. The apparent randomness of a cancer diagnosis shakes your sense of identity to its very core and afterwards nothing will ever feel certain again. Friends and family may find it hard to comprehend why you are sad or depressed. Understandably your loved ones want you to put your cancer behind you, to get on with your life and move forward, but it isn’t so easy. Fellow cancer survivors do understand though and in my search to make sense of the experience of cancer and integrate it into my life, it was to these survivors that I needed to turn.
But where to find them? I searched online and while I found many blogs, chat forums and websites with great advice for those newly diagnosed, or going through treatment, I found it harder to access information on how to deal with the post-treatment limbo I found myself in. So I decided to start my own online resource - Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer. I wanted to provide a safe space for cancer survivors to share their experiences of navigating their way beyond their cancer diagnosis.
Writing for Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer and linking into a community of liked-minded bloggers has been the single most empowering thing that I have done in my journey with cancer. It has enriched my experience, brought new friendships into my life and expanded my horizons like nothing else. Cancer can be a frightening and lonely experience. Being able to write about it honestly and unsparingly and connect with others is a powerful release mechanism. Sometimes the very act of writing our story and having it heard and acknowledged can go a long way towards healing the wounded self.
"One of the most valuable things we can do to heal one another is listen to each other's stories."
Marie Ennis-O’Connor is a freelance public relations consultant with over 10 years experience in a variety of PR roles. Drawing on her PR expertise, Marie now specialises in advising non-profits on a social media strategy which leverages its potential to build networks, to attract more donors, volunteers, advocates and brand ambassadors. Since 2006, Marie has been secretary of Europa Donna Ireland, the Irish Breast Cancer Campaign, an advocacy group working to improve the treatment and care of women in Ireland with a diagnosis of breast cancer. She is also a grassroots leader with LiveStrong, a movement, which unites, inspires and empowers people affected by cancer on a global level. Marie is author of the successful Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer blog, a finalist in this year’s Irish Blog Awards.